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Obama asks Ashton Carter to remain Pentagon’s No. 2

Ashton Carter, deputy secretary of Defense, in his Pentagon office.

Jay Premack for The Boston Globe/File 2012

Ashton Carter, deputy secretary of Defense, in his Pentagon office.

WASHINGTON - President Obama has personally asked Pentagon second-in-command and longtime Harvard professor Ashton B. Carter to continue running the day-to-day operations of the armed forces during his second term, according to senior officials.

Carter, who had been among the finalists to replace outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, will stay on as deputy secretary of defense under Chuck Hagel, the former Republican senator awaiting Senate confirmation for the top post.

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Carter, 58, is a favorite in the Pentagon bureaucracy, where he has served in a series of high-level posts in the Obama and Clinton administrations, in both policy making and weapons procurement roles.

On leave from the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School, Carter has served as the Pentagon’s chief operating officer over the past year. That experience is seen as essential in preparing for looming budget battles, particularly managing the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration.

Unless Congress acts by early March, the Pentagon will face nearly $500 billion in cuts over a decade, on top of a similar amount Carter helped put in place last year.

Carter, who also served as under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics from 2009 to 2011, has similarly played a central role in managing the draw-down of US combat forces overseas, first in Iraq and now in Afghanistan.

“Ash Carter plans to stay at the Pentagon at the President’s request,” a senior administration official told Foreign Policy magazine on Friday. “He’s doing an outstanding job for Secretary Panetta and has been a friend of Senator Hagel for years. Carter is playing a key role in the transition process in getting Hagel up to speed on Defense Department issues as he prepares for the confirmation process.”

The official added: “For this and other reasons, Pentagon insiders see a smooth, seamless handover from Panetta and Hagel after Hagel is confirmed.”

Carter’s Cabinet prospects may have dimmed in being passed over by Hagel for the top Pentagon job, but close observers still predict he could get a promotion later in Obama’s second term, possibly to secretary of energy.

Bryan Bender can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeBender.
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